By Andrew Butterwick
Confidence was mixed as we headed over the hill and into enemy territory for Leeds' clash with the Pie Munchers from Wigan. After winning 6 of the last 9 games I was hopeful that we could gain some revenge for that woeful Boxing Day defeat to Wigan at Elland Road but as the Happy Chocker rightly pointed out "we can only beat top 6 sides.........we always lose to the bottom 3" Whilst not entirely factually correct he had a point. We do seem to struggle against the teams in the relegation quagmire and Wigan certainly fitted that bill.
The traffic jams as we approached Wigan meant we had to dump the car and jog the last mile to the ground but we still missed the first 5 minutes of the game and Dave Whelan's goodbye speech. News that both Cooper and Byram were out with injuries meant that Berardi slotted in at left back and Morison fitted in on the left wing. Ah well this will test the togetherness of the Redfearn's band of brothers I mused. The game had a scrappy opening on a pitch resembling all the smoothness of a cobbled street that made any attempts to play the ball on the floor fraught with bobbles and horrendous first touches. Bamba had the first sight of goal when he thundered onto a Murphy corner to head too near Scott Carson in the home goal.
There was no real rhythm to the game with the lively pitch all too often thwarting any moves from both sides. Despite that Morison chased down a lost cause near the bye line before firing a dangerous ball across the face of the Wigan goal. McLean looked the brightest player on the Wigan team as he gave Wootton problems each time he got the ball. Neither goalie had much to do in an uninspiring first half with Ojo going nearest for the Latics with a shot cum cross floating just past Silvestri's post. At the other end Morison's left footed volley flew high into the stand before Charlie Taylor's surging run ended with a firm shot rising above Carson's bar. Billy Sharp did get blatantly shoved to the ground in the penalty area but as usual this year the referee chose to ignore the furious Leeds player's claims. Deja Vu! Half time came with the scores level at 0.0.
It was difficult to see what the best way to play the conditions were. Any balls on the floor were pinging about like an over active fire cracker whilst playing long balls up to Billy Sharp tended to be snaffled up by McGuire and Pearce in the Wigan back four. McGuire did look ever so slow though and seemed to have been given carte blanche from the referee to man handle Sharp ever time he tried to get free. All in all a frustrating half.
Leeds were now kicking towards the 4,700 away fans but it was the Pie Munchers who nearly opened the scoring with their first attack of the half. Bamba conceded a corner and from the resulting corner kick Silvestri made a fantastic save low to his left after McLean fired in a stinging shot. Then out of the blue an oasis of magic in a difficult game swung the match heavily in Leeds favour. First Charlie Taylor drove at the Wigan defence on the left flank before pinging a ball into Mowatt's feet. The Leeds midfielder defied the surface and played an audacious one two with Sharp before screaming a right foot shot past the helpless Carson in the Wigan goal. What a goal and his 8th of the season! The celebrations behind the goal were epic. 1.0 Leeds.
Far from disheartening struggling Wigan the goal seemed to spur them on in search of the equaliser. They piled forward to try and breach the Leeds back line and as their corner tally started to rack up chances went their way but the lack of someone to convert the chances did little for the nerves of the home fans. "Wigan's going down" bellowed the away fans as the Latics failed to take any advantage of the overwhelming possession they were enjoying. McLean sent a stinging shot into the side netting that half the stadium thought was a goal. Leeds seemed content to dig in and defend their single goal lead and try and hit Wigan on the counter. The game entered the last 10 minutes with Leeds still hanging on and Wigan becoming more desperate to score. Cani and Antenucci replaced Morison and Sharp who both went off to a thunderous ovation from the Leeds fans. Morison had worked hard in the unfamiliar left wing position as had Sharp in his battle with McGuire.
There were 7 minutes of added time to test my nerves after injuries to Morison and Bellusci. McLean struck a clean free kick from 25 yards that Silvestri tipped over in added time but Leeds battled to the end to secure all three points and move into the calm waters of deep mid table whilst leaving Wigan well and truly stuck in the relegation quicksand.
Berardi and Taylor both had decent games with Bamba rock solid at the back. Mowatt, Murphy and Cook all fought hard to defeat both the pitch and their opponents. This was far from a classic but that's not all that surprising considering the awful state of the pitch. I don't usually jump on new player's backs but on the evidence so far from Cani he looks like a fish so far out of water that you wonder if he could ever swim in the first place? That's 21 points from the last 10 games for Leeds a run that has offered real hope for next season and a lot of people thinking if only Redfearn had been in charge all season? Thankfully the journey home was better than the one there as we were left to look forward to the visit of Forest next Saturday at Elland Road. Hopefully both Byram and Cooper will be fit again. Berardi has given Mr Redfearn food for thought with his performance today. His next team selection will be interesting?